Archives for category: radical history

From Garage Collective: As the centennial of the First World draws near, more and more celebrations (yes, I have heard that word used) are beginning to rear their head. Under the snappy banner of WW100, events, projects, and cultural heritage institutions are revisiting the First World War—some to shed new light (such as tweets from the diary of farm labourer during the war), and some to propagate dated myths. It will be an interesting 4 years in terms of the narratives being told, and while there has already been the inclusion of the ‘dissident’ perspective in the form of a TV One movie, I am not holding my breath when it comes to discussions of the causes of the First World War (or its end for that matter, in the form of workers refusing to fight any further). At the NDF Conference I attended last year WW1 projects were talked about as ‘honoring those who had died for freedom’, as if the imperialist line sold to the public in 1914 was alive and well.

However there is one website that I’ve been trawling for interesting analysis, and that is noglory.org. No Glory in War is an UK initiative based on an open letter calling for the centennial to promote international co-operation. The website has a range of articles, videos and other resources and is well worth your time.

My own work on the IWW and anarchism in Aotearoa has flirted the edges of the First World War home front, and talks I gave last year were much more focused on this radical syndicalist opposition. It is an aspect of research I’d love to continue in the future (time permitting), especially the aftermath during the 1920s (the OBU, railway strikes, the homeboat strike, deportation, censorship etc). Although the conscientious objector is being re-framed in the public eye, I think it is also important to acknowledge the worker radicals, absentee ‘defaulters’ and army mutineers who fought their own kind of class war. And this war did not start in 1914, or end in 1918. Again, I doubt that the neat four year package we are about to consume will do this counter-narrative any justice. So pick your site of struggle and step into it—the record will be better off for it.

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This show presents an audiobook-ish experience, based on a talk by Silvia Federici about her book ‘Caliban and the Witch’. This book talks about how the development of capitalism is deeply entwined with processes of accumulation which needs to mold and domesticate the bodies of women in specific ways. The politics of reproduction at stake in this historical study is still very much at work today, and this book provides an invaluable background to developing struggles around reproduction and care today.

A must for anyone interested in the connections between capitalism, gender and colonialism.

Full book here: http://libcom.org/library/caliban-witch-silvia-federici

Reposted from He Hōaka: A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay about reaction to a pānui from Te Papa about visiting the taonga Māori collection that they host (The tapu of taonga and wāhine in a colonised land). I finished by saying:

“. . . but of course none of this can really be understood without already understanding a Māori worldview. And this is the real issue, while Māori must understand a European worldview and law to survive in this land, colonisation has meant that very few people have any understanding of mātauranga Māori, or, in fact, of colonisation. Whenever an issue requires some understanding, whether it be the significance of te reo Māori, or kaitiakitanga, or whatever, the ignorance of most New Zealanders makes dialogue impossible. And thanks again to colonisation, this creates a problem not for those who are ignorant, but for Māori. Māori must repeatedly start from the beginning and attempt to explain their whole culture—this occurs in conversations, the media, court hearings, tribunal hearings. At some point, tauiwi need to take some responsibility for understanding the indigenous culture, and for understanding how their ignorance contributes to cultural imperialism, to Māori perspectives being marginalised and foreign in their own land.”

I want to come back to this to talk about the way Māori realities are often sidelined by people who have made little effort to understand anything beyond Western philosophical frameworks. I encounter this often, (and disappointingly for me) especially in socialist/ libertarian/ anarchist circles, where an analysis of power and imperialism seems especially crucial. I’ve written a lot about this in other posts (eg, Defining Māori), so this is only a summary.

When Europeans arrived here, they unselfconsciously slotted tangata whenua into the same orientalist framework they put all indigenous peoples—primitive, barbaric, native (meaning aligned with nature rather than culture), and superstitious. I say unselfconsciously, because Europeans took no time to consider how many of their practices would look to an outsider— unawareness of their place in nature, unthinking cruelty to children and women, inflexible codes of law, an obsession with covering (but not cleaning) the body, uncritical Eurocentric cultural imperialism (the expectation that the European way of thinking and doing is always right, even taken completely away from a European context where other people might know better). Any differences between tangata whenua understandings and actions, and Western understandings and actions, were seen as simply the result of the primitive, superstitious nature of the natives. Europeans certainly did not consider themselves superstitious—although they often did things for religious or cultural reasons that made little sense to anyone not raised within that religious or cultural framework, they were always rational.

As many have observed and written, the West tends to frame things in dichotomies, where Othering is used to strengthen one’s own righteous identity. One of the biggest contrasts at the time of European arrival here, was between European religion (inherently righteous) and Others’ superstitions or spirituality (irrational and childish at best). (It’s interesting to think about the work of Elsdon Best and Percy Smith in this context. They were fascinated by and sympathetic to Māori philosophies and beliefs, and when they wanted to show that tangata whenua were not as primitive as many of their peers thought, they tirelessly sought evidence for Māori belief in a single, supreme god. When they eventually found an informant who spoke of such a god, they then argued that this meant Māori were well on their way to developing a proper religion.)

As the values of the Enlightenment (which elevated intellect and reason above religious adherence) became more widespread, secularism became the righteous stronghold. This meant that our understandings and actions were only valid if they were based on rational (scientific) reasoning—although what is considered rational and relevant would continue to be defined by Western values. This is pretty much where the dominant culture in New Zealand is at now. For whatever reason (I blame cultural imperialism), it is not widely understood that any reasoning is based on values and a cultural framework (as Skyler, from Reading the maps discusses).

Because Western values and cultural frameworks are so pervasive, it is easy to dismiss anything outside those frameworks as not reasonable in some way. It is now common to hear Māori frameworks being dismissed as ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’—when they are actually legitimate philosophies. They have a basis in a belief system and morality, just as Western philosophical frameworks do (much as many now try to deny it). They also have a basis in a very long association with this land, which Western frameworks do not.

The sort of understanding that comes from a long association with a place is so often dismissed as spiritual, and therefore unreasonable. For example, understanding that a river is a living entity, that it has a life-force that must be sustained, and that the wellbeing of my community is intertwined with the wellbeing of that life-force. This can be, and for a long time has been, written off as spiritual, animistic nonsense. But of course, it is true, and Western science (in this case ecology) has been playing catch-up for decades, when we could have just paid attention to tangata whenua (I say ‘we’ because I trained and briefly practised as an ecologist, and never learnt anything of indigenous understandings of relationships with the environment). The knowledge that comes from generations of interdependence with an environment is more legitimate than imported ideas about the way the world works.

The point of this post is that those of us who have been raised within exclusively Western philosophical frameworks need to be open to the limitations of those frameworks. Others understand the world differently, they may understand the world better. They may express that understanding in ways that sound irrational or strange to us. If we dismiss it as nonsense, or incorporate it into our superior frameworks and explain it back to them, then we are behaving as cultural supremacists. We will continue to creep infinitesimally towards understandings that others have known for generations and have freely offered us. Which might be fine, if we weren’t destroying ourselves and our planet as we do so.

To learn more about cultural imperialism and the importance of mātauranga, I highly recommend getting hold of Te Wānanga o Raukawa: Restoring mātauranga to restore ecosystems (produced by Te Whare Whakatupu Mātauranga, published by Te Tākupu and written by Āneta Hinemihi Rāwiri).

black+poppy+2Some great ideas here that would translate to Aotearoa.

The London Remembering the Real World War 1 group has now had two meetings, and has begun planning our response to the official commemorations of World War 1, which look like celebrating the war as a just cause, a triumph of British nationalism, and ignoring as much as possible the huge resistance to the war, and the origins of the war in routine capitalist competition.

Below is a summary of some of the decisions and ideas so far.

One suggestion for principles which we all liked was
• We honour all the dead.
• The war arose from normal capitalist social relations.
• Working class resistance stopped the war.

(These may need to be expanded on –but responses to this from folk not at the meeting would be useful).

General introductory leaflet

We agreed the need for a short introductory leaflet to announce our existence and position… The first draft is being worked on.

Blog

We agreed to set up a WordPress blog, which one person will administrate for now, but will allow us to have multiple administrators later, which we thought desirable. (Blog is being worked on)
Wordpress is also easy to use, and we have contacts who have good experience with use of it if we need help.

We will probably need several admin people, uploading stuff, so that is doesn’t get too much for one person; dealing with emails that arise from the blog is likely to be a big job too.

The home page could also be translated into other languages.

National meeting

It was thought some kind of national planning meeting, gathering together radical history groups and others, interested in planning oppositional histories and events around WW1 anniversaries. May 2014 was thought to be a good month; we should start contacting others to see if people are
interested… Contacts like Bristol Radical History Group, Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union would be good for a start.
One person present from Manchester at the first meeting, said she would talk to others there about setting up a group there.

Beyond that, a wide educational conference might be good, more of an open event, with speakers etc…
Benefit: The band that we are in touch with are happy to play a benefit in late February… Other acts that might be interested would be good (we can probably get in touch with Robb Johnson, who has written songs about WW1, and Leon Rosselson, maybe.

Stickers/Posters

Some designs for stickers and posters were looked over… The Gerd Arntz Soldatentum anti-WW1 art is very striking, easy to reproduce, but too detailed for good reproduction as stickers, so we will work on doing them as posters. We could also maybe use Gee Vaucher’s Crass image – the dead hand on
barbed wire, with the caption “your Country needs you.”
A design for a sticker we liked the idea of was a black poppy with a red centre.
But this should be an ongoing search – if anyone comes across/knows of good and usable designs for anti-WW1 publicity, or is/has contact with artists who could produce such, get in touch with us…
Slogans discussed for stickers/posters:
• ‘No War but the Class War’
• ‘Workers stopped WW1’
• ‘We Stopped the War’
• ‘Resistance Stopped WW1’.
• ‘1914-2014 – 100 years of resistance to war.’
• ‘Class War – the War to End all Wars.’

More ideas that evoke the spirit of desertion – one your typist came up with later was something like:
‘Mutiny, Desertion, Refusal: The real WW1 Spirit!’

We could also subvert official WW1 posters from the time, or those that the govt sponsor now…

Mainstream events and our response to them

The ‘big’ events that the official national commemorations will focus around, will be
• the outbreak of war
• the battle of the Somme (beginning 1916)
• the 1918 armistice

So it would be good to organize some subversive response to them… But hundreds of local events will also be put on, many of which would also be worth some counter-blasts. For instance, Imperial War Museum North is planning a ‘Closer Look at the Xmas 1914 truce’.

But we should also make a list of events they will IGNORE, and that we should raise.

Actions and activities

Practical suggestions

• A timeline of events planned for the ‘official’ commemorations; from that we could work out some concrete plans for what we could do.
There was some discussion around this; some other ideas for a web space included a weekly counter of casualties for the corresponding week of WW1… Like a ticking counter … (is this a bit sick?) Obviously updating this is a lot of work!

Some practical suggestion of activities we could do:

• actions at or counter to official events, to raise awareness, say we’re still here, still opposing war.
• specific actions or demos to commemorate specific events: one that has already been suggested was the big anti-war demo in 1914, just before war was declared; another idea we came up with at the meeting was a demo at the reopening of the Imperial War Museum’s WW1 exhibits (all closed at moment)… whenever that may be.
One of the biggest events next year will be on Remembrance Day – would be good to do something – without dissing the dead? Got a year to think about it.

Events, struggles and questions we Want to Commemorate –

• The run-up to war, the peace movement…
• The outbreak of War
• Jingoism and xenophobia: attacks on foreigners in the UK
• Conscription, and resistance to it
• The Russian Revolution 1917
• The first International Women’s Day
• The mutinies, all of them, but especially the ones that helped to end
the war in 1918.
• Strikes and bread and butter struggles during WW1
• the 1918 police strike
• The demob riots 1919

It would be especially good to celebrate the events that transcend the ‘national’, chauvinistic focus the authorities are emphasizing, that elaborate on more than just life on the western front; and to also make
contact with younger people, who the govt will be making an effort to spread shite among. An important link is between resistance to WW1 and current opposition to war, and to the ongoing attempt to integrate armed
forces into all walks of life – seriously, TV especially has increasing programs normalizing army, etc, but also all the supporting our boys campaigns, press etc. There’s definitely an ideological drive to ‘recapture’ what they look back and nostalge for, this ‘covenant’ of armed forces and ‘the nation’. Part of what we should be doing is pointing out that this past is much more ambiguous than they would like people to think, especially in the first world war period. In terms of getting in touch with younger folk, an info pack for schools, and talking to history teachers, were ideas that came up.

• media stunts – included an idea for an Xmas football match in France, with international comrades, Xmas 1914… David Cameron has already announced a Xmas match apparently though! So we need ways of turning that around (someone agreed to chase up a text about the use of football as a recuiting tool for the army…)
A left-field suggestion was to campaign for a Xmas match in Afghanistan, army & Taliban…?!

• Setting up our own counterfeit war memorials, plaques etc.
One mainstream plan already announced has been to set up a paving stone every place someone lived who won the Victoria Cross medal in WW1 – we discussed the idea of having a counter-memorial and ceremony, for someone in the same town/area who resisted the war.

• making some black poppies for next November, to commemorate deserters, draft-dodgers, mutineers, those who resisted at home through strikes, supporting and sheltering those on the run, anti-conscription activists, strikers, rent strikers… etc…

• Publications: a short pamphlet summing up anti-war resistance in London was thought to be useful. Past Tense are happy to collate information for this, and can put it together/print it.
• There are already plans afoot to reprint Dave Lamb’s excellent old pamphlet, Mutinies 1917-20

• We should also be monitoring stuff released under the 100-year rule to National Archives… on the case on that.

• to keep an eye on PHD students working on WW1… also they could all be probably persuaded to talk…!

• a reading list of books, pamphlets, papers, etc, on WW1.. (This has already been started)

Some other things…

We have access to Pathe film footage of ex-servicemen rioting for jobs in Downing St in 1920… and other films… a list is available.

Miscellaneous ideas

General discussion: events and aspects of WW1 worth doing something around:
• the networks of resistance, around the UK (and wider), supporting people refusing conscription…
• how the government acted when war came: the moments it started, the took over all the railways, stopped police leave, requisitioned all horses, introduced legislation to crack down on opposition; also changed licensing laws to try to increase production… interned ‘suspect foreigners’. Later introduced conscription, after initial euphoric flood of volunteers dried up in 1915; 1915 Munitions Act – government took over all factories for arms production.
On one hand this illustrates the nature of war under the modern capitalist state; on the other, its unlikely the centenary commemorations will flag these repressive measures – not like they’re going to say “hey, look, we
introduced conscription!” etc. We will have to bang on about all that.
• some discussion on the myth that “World War 1 liberated women”… is there any writings on this? Maybe something in Sylvia Pankhurst’s book, “The Home Front” (long out of print though)… anyone else know?
• theories of the origins of the war: eg, there’s a theory that WW1 was in effect started to control rebellious working class around Europe. There’s a book called “the People as Enemy”, which (although it is about WW2) shows evidence of overt discussion of this among ruling classes. John Zerzan also wrote an article on the social pressures behind the war.
• on complete lists of COs etc – we have access to full lists of all soldiers shot; is there a fuller list of all those sentenced – as many sentences were commuted. Cyril Pearce in Huddersfield is putting together a list of all Conscientious Objectors in the British Isles…
• Big business: who profited from the war? New technology, armaments…
• Shared myths of war; WW2 as shared national sacrifice obviously very big. But WW1 myth needs examining…

Celebrities

We had a discussion on celebrities – some folk suggested some names of famous people who might be sympathetic to what we are proposing to do… Ian Hislop, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Adie were mentioned. Some of these have either written books or poems etc which touch on WW1… Another author
mentioned was Gerard Oram, who wrote a book on squaddies sentenced to death in WW1. General feeling seemed to be that we should not tailor what we are doing to recruiting them, but do what we do and make them aware of it, and let them come if they are interested. One way of this might be critical reviews of their books on blog etc.

Tours of WW1 sites of executions, mutinies etc

Some people are interested in setting up some tours to visit sites, eg Etaples, Ypres, Calais, Wilhelmshaven… we do eed to start thinking about this. Would be good points to meet up with international comrades…

Future Meetings of this group

We agreed to meet regularly, on the third Thursday of each month, so
Thurs 16th January
Thurs 20th February
Thurs 20th march

And so on… at 7.30, at 88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH
(The entrance is in St Bride’s Avenue – press any buzzer).

To subscribe to the Remembering the WW1 e-list, send mail to
remembering-the-real-ww1-subscribe@lists.riseup.net

then reply to the email it sends to you…

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Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 19 Tory Street, Wellington.

Local, national, and international speakers! Books, books and more books! A week of anarchist fun, make your plans now! More information coming soon!

If you are interested in booking a table or organising  an event please get in touch, wellingtonanarchistbookfair at gmail dot com.

The website is here: http://wellingtonanarchistbookfair.com/